Sea Lion Branding in Oregon

California Sea Lions at Westport Washington

California Sea Lions at Westport, Washington – ©ingridtaylar

Because this is happening a few hours from home, I’m posting to bring some attention to the issue. I haven’t included any graphic photos, but the subject matter is the hazing and culling of California sea lions.

Just south of our Washington border, in Astoria, Oregon, the Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is trapping and branding sea lions at the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. I’ve been following the story on Facebook, at the Sea Shepherd page and the Sea Lion Defense Brigade page.

Sea lions are being targeted for their catch of salmon at the dam. These marine mammals are often blamed for the problems which have, at their genesis, human technologies or practices: we built the dams, we destroyed wetlands, over-developed, polluted rivers, over-fished and thus depleted salmon numbers to these endangered levels.

According to Sea Shepherd and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, sea lions take just between 0.4% and 4.2% of the salmon run below the Bonneville Dam each year. According to the WDFW document, the sea lion take was 1.8% in 2011 and 2.2% in 2010. These are other numbers cited by Sea Shepherd:

  • The dams along the Columbia River take up to 60% of juvenile salmon and up to 17% of adult salmon.
  • Human fishing activity takes approximately 17% of the adult salmon from the river.
  • Non-native, introduced sport-fishing species consume up to 3 million young salmon a year.
  • By-catch of Columbia River salmon in open ocean fisheries also contributes to the loss of Columbia River salmon.

The states of Washington and Oregon applied for exceptions to the Marine Mammal Protection Act in order to carry out hazing and lethal control of the sea lions they deem problematic. Part of the methodology is to brand sea lions and then track the ones who refuse to budge from the food source at the dam. Those sea lions can then be killed.

A few days ago, the Dam Guardians, Sea Shepherd’s protection force on the Columbia River, documented sea lions trapped for branding. Observers and volunteers then reported a sea lion apparently in shock, shaking and exhibiting other trauma behaviors following the branding process. Today, Sea Shepherd reported that one branded sea lion died.

If you read some of the local Oregon news reports, a preponderance of the reader commentary is in favor of the branding and the lethal culling. As with any online discussion, it’s tough to know how many comments are legitimate or scientific, how many come from fishermen who have a vested interest in the sea lion cull, or how many commenters are just trolls. The heat generated by salmon issues in the Pacific Northwest leads to the most vitriolic of sentiments about sea lions who effectively compete for the resources we humans want for ourselves.

Sea Shepherd and Dam Guardians are asking people who oppose these particular methods by ODFW to contact both the Governors of Washington and Oregon and let them know of the opposition to these practices. If you’re in the area and are so inclined, you can also volunteer as a Dam Guardian, to observe and document the sea lion cull. Contact information is posted here at the Dam Guardians What You Can Do page.

Edited to add (3/29/13): Here’s that contact information. People have been posting their objections to the governors’ Facebook pages (listed below) — most numerously on Governor Kitzhaber’s page.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber
State Capitol Building
900 Court Street
Salem, OR 97301
phone: (503) 378-4582
fax: (503) 378-6827
Internet: http://www.oregon.gov/gov/Pages/RequestAssistance.aspx
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/johnkitzhaber
twitter: @govkitz

Washington Governor Jay Inslee
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002
phone: (360) 902-4111
fax: 360-753-4110
Internet: http://www.governor.wa.gov/contact/
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WaStateGov?ref=ts&fref=ts
twitter: @govInslee

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Comments

  1. says

    I don’t know how many more stories of “wildlife control” I can handle Ingrid. With the Sea Lions taking less than 5% of the Salmon from the river, authorities decided the herd needed to be culled? Killed for eating fish? Maybe humans should think more about the balance of nature before we make drastic changes to our environment and then punish wildlife for following their instincts or simply eating to stay alive. The photos of the branded and tagged lions at the Dam Guardian’s page are very disturbing. I appreciate that you didn’t place any of them in this post.
    Larry Jordan recently posted…Ross’s Geese at Klamath National Wildlife Area, Miller Island UnitMy Profile

  2. says

    Mia and Larry, as you both know, it’s far too easy to find distressing stories about wildlife, so I ruminate before posting any of them. There are many times I actually think about stepping away from the blog for a time, simply because any research I do on wild animals or wild places pulls up these issues when I’m not expecting them. As I told Hugh, even reading the headlines in a Google search on a specific wildlife species can be an exercise in retaining composure.

    When I started the blog almost five years ago now, I said in my bio that I would cover primarily those topics I personally see through my photographs. One reason is that the landscape of wildlife issues is so vast, I didn’t want to expand my posts beyond the realm of my experience. The second reason relates to what Larry wrote about having a limit on what you can see in terms of our behavior toward wildlife. I think I’ve far exceeded that limit in my personal life, and I can attest that it’s not good for the psyche. I don’t like to focus on the negative, even though I’m conscious almost every single moment of the day, what is happening to wild animals in various contexts. There are obviously a lot of sites where people can go to hear the worst of the news.

    The marine mammal issue in the Pacific Northwest has been an eye opening and emotional one for me, since I’ve personally watched some of the hazings and heard the attitudes toward sea lions as a result of the salmon crisis. I have a sense that even people not that far away, in Portland and other localities, might not know what’s happening at the Bonneville Dam — even though it’s been going on for a few years. As with all such practices, often carried out without too much public attention, I’m glad that Dam Guardians is putting worldwide focus on Oregon’s decision to handle matters this way. I hope there is enough public and economic pressure to end this ridiculous hazing once and for all.

  3. says

    Yes, I also thank you Ingrid for not posting the photos of the branding. I couldn’t believe it. It sounds like medieval torture. How can they even think of that? How can I morally accept it? STOP eating salmon, as for every salmon you eat, you contribute, maintain, and nurture its industry.
    M. Firpi recently posted…A Forked Tongue, that is…My Profile

    • says

      Maria, I did not understand the full scope of the salmon issue until we moved back up here to the Northwest. When I spent time in Seattle previously, as a much younger person, these issues had not escalated to today’s levels and I didn’t have the awareness, either. There is a lot of antipathy surrounding the poor salmon — and it’s impossible not to see this controversy as a sign of what’s to come in our struggle over “resources” if we humans don’t get our collective act together.

      In all of these issues, whether they involve sea lions or wolves or any species in between, there is obviously a connection between our consumption habits, land development and food production — and the welfare of wildlife. As one example, take prairie dog “control” — and how it also affects species living in tandem, like Burrowing Owls. Prairie dogs are poisoned or shot by ranchers, as most people know, because they’re blamed for competing over cover and forage crop — and also (mistakenly) for creating livestock dangers with their burrows. Then Burrowing Owls suffer, and predators in that web suffer either through food depletion or bioaccumulation of the poisons their ingesting in prey, and on and on.

      • says

        Speaking of land development projects in prairies, I have a relative who moved into such house with a prairie right next to it. She was appalled (I suppose) when she found out her yard was full of “molehills”, the result of moles digging their burrows. She could not bear with it, so I know she did exterminate them. Yet, she doesn’t mind seeing occasional deer and hawks passing by. Most damage caused by moles is purely cosmetic. They may uproot some plants, but there is a mesh wire you can use to protect them. These little animals have had to pay the highest price for prairie land development.
        M. Firpi recently posted…And so a Forked Tongue, it wasMy Profile

        • says

          Ah, yes, I remember my gardening mom disliked moles; I guess she and my dad eradicated them somehow. Very sad. They were mistaught, and so was I. I’m glad I allowed myself to be retaught. As you surely have, Maria.

        • says

          You’re right, Maria, about the price these animals pay, often for our rapacious appetites (food, development, comfort). There are interesting studies, although I’ve only read a handful, about the benefits animals like prairie dogs and moles bring to the soil in terms of adding nutrients and so forth. These benefits tend to be minimized in papers discussing the animals’ detrimental effects on cattle forage and so on. I’m reading snippets of a book called “The Thin Green Line” by wildlife officer Terry Grosz who calls sheep “range maggots” — because of his antipathy toward the damage done by grazing animals on public lands.

          • says

            Wikipedia says: “Problems cited as caused by moles include contamination of silage with soil particles, making it unpalatable to livestock, the covering of pasture with fresh soil reducing its size and yield, damage to agricultural machinery by the exposure of stones, damage to young plants through disturbance of the soil, weed invasion of pasture through exposure of freshly tilled soil, and damage to drainage systems and watercourses. Other species such as weasels and voles may use mole tunnels to gain access to enclosed areas or plant roots. Moles burrow lawns, raising molehills, and killing the lawn, for which they are sometimes considered pests. They can undermine plant roots, indirectly causing damage or death. However, contrary to popular belief, moles do not eat plant roots”. I had to cite this to show you how complex is the “mole infestation” issue with humans. Nevertheless, I’ve seen documentaries of humane gardeners who have learned to live with moles. They keep their plants protected with some mesh wire fencing, and simply don’t kill them.
            M. Firpi recently posted…Musa velutina (Pink Velvet Banana)My Profile

  4. says

    I’m grateful you have the fortitude to endure the hazing in order to help expose the sea lions’ plight to the millions of humans who have developed (rather than suppressed) their innate compassion for fellow beings.

    The mere description of the traumatized sea lion was hard enough to bear, and like Mia, Larry, and Maria, I could not have borne seeing the photos on your blog. (Larry, I hope you can replace the “disturbing” images on the Dam Guardian’s page with this dear one that Ingrid took. And Ingrid, I pray that these two will escape from this sickening, slavery-reminiscent branding and murder, euphemistically called “culling.”)

    So that I (and other readers) can avoid going to the graphic pages, could you please post the names and phone numbers of the Oregon and Washington governors, Ingrid? I will call them and calmly express my thoughts, and will send the contact information to several friends who live in those states. Thanks so much.

    • says

      Sorry for the delay in posting this info, CQ. I’ll add it to the post as well:

      Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber
      State Capitol Building
      900 Court Street
      Salem, OR 97301
      phone: (503) 378-4582
      fax: (503) 378-6827
      Internet: http://www.oregon.gov/gov/Pages/RequestAssistance.aspx
      facebook: https://www.facebook.com/johnkitzhaber
      twitter: @govkitz

      Washington Governor Jay Inslee
      Office of the Governor
      PO Box 40002
      Olympia, WA 98504-0002
      phone: (360) 902-4111
      fax: 360-753-4110
      Internet: http://www.governor.wa.gov/contact/
      facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WaStateGov?ref=ts&fref=ts
      twitter: @govInslee

      • says

        Merci. I’ve copy/pasted the info into an email to self. Will call their offices on Monday, after doing my civic duty of showing up in the jury room. I wouldn’t mind being selected to serve on a jury panel hearing a criminal case. I wish the defendants were the sea lion branders/killers, so I could vote to lock ‘em up. :-)

    • says

      I was going to steel myself (if that’s even possible) to photograph the scene myself on my next free day — make the drive to the area — but it appears that Dam Guardians and Sea Lion Brigade have that part handled. I do believe in bearing witness when situations need exposure, but I also confess to how heartbreakingly difficult it is to work up the courage to do that. Even photographing the local, non-lethal hazing last year (with “seal bombs”) in my neighborhood tested my emotional fortitude.

  5. says

    Thank you Ingrid for providing contact information – I see facebook and twitter are both filled with other voices denouncing this horrible treatment to sea lions. Honestly, if it weren’t for your post it would have been off my radar — Thank you.

    And for what it’s worth not only is the branding an issue — And the starvation as well but I’ve just come to learn that of the incredible amount of sea life that is removed for human consumption almost half of it is “wasted” by humans who discard it anyway. This simply is not sustainable for any species. :(
    http://www.countinganimals.com/animals-we-use-and-abuse-for-food-we-do-not-eat/
    Bea Elliott recently posted…The Irony – End of Lay Hens & End of Day GlassMy Profile

    • says

      Yes, Bea, and think of all the sea life fed to land mammals before we consume THEM.

      I have to trust that one good thought and deed has more power to change the world for the better than all the selfish, violent thoughts and deeds have lasting power to harm it.

      • says

        The other thing that keeps me going, CQ, is the notion of unforeseeable possibilities. That is, although things often look so pessimistic or impossible from this time period, from this point of view, I give allowance for the possibility that new revelations, events and technologies might shift the winds, so to speak, in a direction that favors nonhuman species in the long run. I don’t think it’s magical thinking so much as not succumbing to limited thinking. That goes along with your hopeful message about the power of “good.”

    • says

      Bea, thank you for that graphic and astounding illustration of the waste. How unconscionable of us. It’s hard to fathom. Add to the waste of “target” oceanic species the whole by-catch issue — killing non-target animals — and the numbers of animals harmed through seafood consumption appears endless. I also can’t even imagine how many unreported, lethal “controls” are implemented at sea, legally and illegally, against oceanic predators. This sea lion cull is revealed for its ludicrous focus when you consider the much broader implications of our behaviors.

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